May 8, 2020 / 5:14 PM / 25 days ago

UPDATE 1-U.S. drillers cut oil & gas rigs to historic low -Baker Hughes

(Adds latest report from Baker Hughes; updates oil prices)

By Scott DiSavino

May 8 (Reuters) - The number of operating oil and natural gas rigs fell to an all-time low - reflecting data going back 80 years - as the energy industry slashes output and spending to deal with the coronavirus-led crash in fuel demand.

The rig count, an early indicator of future output, fell by 34 to a record low of 374 in the week to May 8, according to data on Friday from energy services firm Baker Hughes Co going back to 1940. RIG-OL-USA-BHI RIG-GS-USA-BHI

The prior all-time low was 404 rigs in May 2016.

Fuel demand has declined about 30% worldwide and companies are making drastic cuts to spending, laying off thousands of workers and closing production to offset a global glut. Consumption has picked up modestly in the last couple of weeks, but the overhang of supply is expected to last for months, if not years.

Drillers have cut an average of 52 rigs per week since mid March after crude prices started to plunge due to the coronavirus and a brief oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

U.S. oil rigs fell by 33 this week to 292, their lowest since September 2009, while gas rigs fell by one to 80, their lowest on record according to Baker Hughes data going back to 1987.

"The great coronavirus derigging kicked off mid to late in the first quarter, impacting well starts across the major U.S. oil shale plays," analysts at Enverus Rig Analytics said, noting the rig count was down 38% in April and 62% over the last year.

Analysts expect companies will keep pulling rigs for the rest of the year and will be hesitant to activate many new units in 2021 and 2022.

Raymond James projected the oil and gas rig count would collapse from around 800 at the end of 2019 to about 400 by the middle of the year and 200 at the end of 2020. The investment bank expects an average of just 225 operating rigs in 2021.

The count in Canada already fell to a record low of just 26 rigs two weeks ago, according to Baker Hughes.

U.S. crude futures were trading around $24 a barrel on Friday, down about 60% since the start of the year as lockdowns to stop the pandemic cut global economic growth and energy demand.

Cowen & Co said 37 of the independent exploration and production companies that the financial services firm tracks have cut spending plans since early March when crude prices started to plunge, implying a 45% decline in 2020 capex. Before the price collapse, it forecast a drop of 11%. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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